Learning to Live ‘From Now On’
Sermon for Sunday 15 July 2018 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe, Trinity 7 (Proper 10) Mark 6v14-29
Text: ‘Out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her’ (Mark 6v26)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
The movie The Greatest Showman tells the story of PT Barnum who, after finding himself and his family destitute, gathered together the despised and rejected around him – midgets, bearded ladies, Siamese Twins, Black trapeze artists – and turned their disabilities into ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
As the story unfolds, in a bid to obtain the approval of the Upper Class, Barnum brings the Swedish Singer Jenny Lind to America and is immediately successful. However, now that he has new wealthy friends, he shuts his troupe of misfits out of his life. It is only later, after he learns that following Jenny Lind, means losing his wife and children, that Barnum returns to his roots and out of disaster the big tent of the Circus is born.
There is a great similarity between the Ringmaster Barnum and the King Herod.
Both of them knew that life was more than ‘skin deep’;
Barnum in seeking out the rejects of society,
Herod in his earnest conversations with the Baptist.
Both of them were seduced by the trappings of this world;
Barnum by the adulation of the crowd,
Herod by the privilege of status.
Both of them got things wrong;
Barnum by excluding the very people that gave him a stage on which to perform and Herod by making rash promises to the young Salomé.
But that is were the likeness ends.
Barnum ended up doing what King Herod was too afraid to do.
Barnum was able to repent and turn back to those whom he rejected and found love again, but Herod had given his word and ‘out of regard for his oaths and for the guests’ beheaded a prophet.
It is possible to be right but not righteous,
good but not godly,
and end up a jobsworth instead of following God’s commands.
This is the challenge we face in living our faith in public.
It is all to easy to do the right thing, to be good, to be ‘only doing my job’ and miss the opportunities to proclaim God’s presence in a dark, disfigured self-serving world.
How often in the history of humanity have we seen people excuse their immoral and inhuman behaviour with the phrase ‘I was only following orders’?
Today our excuses are a little more nuanced. They are perhaps perfectly mirrored by the sketch from ‘Little Britain’ in which every enquiry for help is met with the reply, ‘The Computer says no’.
And so the poor suffer more, those who cannot help themselves have the little help they have taken from them, and we become a harder, colder society in which the milk of human kindness sours.
When we finally come home our Master will not look at us and ask if we kept every single oath we ever made in front of friends (which was what drove Herod to kill our patron saint); but were we more often righteous than right, did we put godliness above being seen to be good, and did we spend time proclaiming God’s love even if it seemed to be ‘more than our job was worth’.
Why only be right when you can be righteous? Why settle for good when you can go for godly? Why be a jobsworth when you can take one step further and proclaim the love of God?
This is what sets Herod and PT Barnum apart. Herod sees no way out of his ill-made oaths, Barnum holds on to the possibility of repentance.
Herod could see no other way than to follow the ‘honour code’ of doing his duty and keeping his oaths and this led to death. Barnum swallowed his pride, turned around and found new life, literally, out of the ashes of the old.
If we follow Herod’s path we side with the One Talent Slave who pays the Master back exactly what he was given. If we follow Barnum and the road of repentance we open up the possibility of redemption.
So, in the age-old words of the Rich young ruler, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ To him and to us Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan who goes one step, in fact several steps, beyond what was expected of him. The Master pronounces the same command then as He gives us today, ‘Go, and do thou likewise!’
At the end of The Greatest Showman Barnum, having returned to his ‘freak show’ of misfits, realises that all along it is the poor, the neglected, the rejects of society, who have been like a Good Samaritan for him and so he sings ‘From Now On’
I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for
From now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
It starts tonight
And let the promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart From now on
And the ‘outsiders’, who have been rejected by the world, respond with ‘And we will come back home’
In the end, because I believe in a God who loves even the loveless, I know deep in my soul that we will all ‘come back home’.
If we live lives of right over righteousness, goodness over godliness, doing my job over serving the family of all people, we will arrive home exhausted by fear and under the shadow of judgement.
But if we choose to live lives of penitence and service we will find a deep joy that will set our hearts ablaze with love from today until eternity.
I know which path I will walk.
Please walk alongside me, and as we walk let us sing the praises of a great God who breaks the chains of our self-serving lives and sets us free to give ourselves away in love and service to all those whom the world has rejected.
© Andrew Dotchin 2018